June 22, 2013
"Tarzan" is, for me and my kids, one of the less memorable Disney animated features. So when there was announcement that there will be a stage musical version this year, my kids were not really interested to go for some reason. Unlike the other Disney films, I only know one song by heart from the original movie, which was the Phil Collins hit song, "You'll Be in My Heart." As luck may have it, I won a chance to watch tonight with my daughter so we grabbed it. Now, I am so glad that we got to watch this show! It was so, so much better than what I imagined it to be.
The story is already familiar with us. A couple survives a shipwreck with their baby, but were eventually killed by a leopard. Their baby was adopted by an ape Kala, whose own baby had been killed by the same leopard. Kala calls this human baby Tarzan, but it was difficult for Kala's husband Kerchak to accept him. Years later, Tarzan now an adult, kills the leopard, and reconciles with Kerchak. At that time, a father-daughter team of naturalists from England, the Porters, venture into Tarzan's jungle. Tarzan and Jane meet and fall in love with each other, overcoming the communication gap. Tarzan now has to choose whether he is ape or human.
The stage was awash with green color signifying the jungle setting. The best feature of the stage was the dramatic lighting design, which really brought out the emotion is several scenes. The best example of this exemplary lighting was during the song, "I Need to Know" when the child Tarzan contemplates his real nature. In the song "Waiting for this Moment" by Jane Porter, the set of strange plants and creatures was bursting in luminescent color as black lights bathed the stage. To add another dimension to the stage, they make liberal use of harnesses to make actors "fly". From the first time we see the harness subtly with the first leopard attack to the grand curtain call of Tarzan and Jane, I think this show had the most elaborate harness work I have seen on a local stage production. The use of the Igorot "bahag" as the loin cloths for Tarzan and the apes was a remarkable costume decision.
The songs are written by Phil Collins, with a book by David Henry Hwang, based on the story by Edgar Rice Burroughs. The song "You'll Be in My Heart" remains to be the best song in the show. In the first act, it was sung by Kala to the infant Tarzan, as it was in the film. In the second act, this song was reprised by the adult Tarzan singing it back to Kala. This song has beautiful lyrical content, and really catchy hook, which makes it memorable. Unfortunately the other Collins' songs, while pleasant enough, had nothing much really that sticks to mind. I felt that the best new song written for the show is the beautiful "For the First Time," a love duet between Jane and Tarzan.
Atlantis can really make those innovative casting decisions which make their productions very attractive to the public. This time it was hiring Broadway actor Dan Domenech to be Tarzan. Dan has the height, body build and moves to stand-out from the rest and be a credible Tarzan. From the moment he made that visually-impressive swinging entrance up to his final signature Tarzan yell, Dan dominated the stage. His singing was quite good too, best in his duets with Jane ("For the First Time") and Kala ("You'll Be in My Heart" Reprise). He had that right combination of naivete, curiosity, strength and dignity that the role requires.
Rachelle Ann Go again impressed me with her delightful portrayal of plucky naturalist Jane Porter. Of course, the role does not require as much character development as her award-winning stage debut as Ariel in "The Little Mermaid", but Rachel Ann has the deportment and accent of her role down pat. Her mere presence on stage made even the plainest of scenes cute and amusing. Her singing was absolutely transcendent on songs like "Strangers Like Me" and "For the First Time".
Ima Castro is a very talented singer with mad soaring vocals, but can seem miscast in many of her stage appearances, notably in the title role of "Aida" or as Saragghina in "Nine". However in this show, she played Tarzan's devoted ape mother Kala to perfection. Her quiet moments with Tarzan, and her husband Kerchak were very moving. Her spotlight song is of course "You'll Be in My Heart" and she gives this familiar song her own surreally special vocal touch.
Calvin Millado is another very talented singer/actor that has some problem fitting well into the various roles given him in the past, such as the German magnate Hertz in "Rock of Ages" or as sexy UPS guy Kyle in "Legally Blonde" (see what I mean?). But this time, I think Calvin has just portrayed his best role ever as Kerchak, the alpha ape tribe leader and Tarzan's reluctant adoptive father. His solo featured song "No Other Way" was so masterfully and authoritatively sung with his deep baritone.
It is good to see some showbiz veterans back on stage in this show. It is too bad that Eugene Villaluz was onstage very few times as Prof. Porter, Jane's eccentric scientist father. He was so good! He actually matches the delightfulness level of Rachelle Ann's. He only has one featured song number, "Like No Man I've Ever Seen" and his much-missed singing voice is still very much there.
Ex-Smokey Mountain member Jeffrey Hidalgo is also back as Tarzan's ape friend Terk. He also has one featured number, the upbeat song the opens the second act, "Trashin' the Camp," where he sang, danced and sung with so much energy. I hope to see them in more stage productions in the future.
I have to commend also the talented kid Carlos Dala, who gave it his all as young Tarzan. His singing in his dramatic solo "I Need to Know" is strong and effective. (His alternate in this role is Warren Saga.) Young Terk is played tonight by JM Urquico, who matched the energy of Dala. (His alternate in this role is his twin brother JC.) I don't think I have seen Arnel Carrion (who played the greedy brutish villain Clayton) before, but he had very strong stage presence in this show.
Overall, director Chari Arespacochaga has delivered another colorful and entertaining Disney show, infused with beautiful stage images and moments. The material may seem too familiar, or the songs too unfamiliar, but the immense talents of the hardworking actors make this jungle tale come to sparkling life. Kids and adults alike will enjoy this show. (They should have staged this back in May during the summer break so more kids could watch!) In any case, kudos to the entire cast and crew for the enjoyable show!
The Viva Atlantis Theatricals production of "Tarzan" runs at the Meralco Theater for one more weekend, up to June 29, 2013. For tickets, call 687-5853, local 661, or Ticketworld.